19th-Century Life for Mexican-Americans

    Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Feb. 2, 1848


    Mexicans now established in territories previously belonging to Mexico, and which remain for the future within the limits of the United States, as defined by the present treaty, shall he free to continue where they now reside, or to remove at anytime to the Mexican Republic, retaining the property which they possess in the said territories, or disposing thereof, and removing the proceeds wherever they please, without their being subjected, on this account, to any contribution, tax, or charge whatever.
    Those who shall prefer to remain in the said territories may either retain the title and rights of Mexican citizens, or acquire those of citizens of the United States. But they shall be under the obligation to make their election within one year from the date of the exchange of ratifications of this treaty; and those who shall remain in the said territories after the expiration of that year, without having declared their intention to retain the character of Mexicans, shall he considered to have elected to become citizens of the United States.        

    In the said territories, property of every kind, now belonging to Mexicans not established there, shall be inviolably respected. The present owners, the heirs of these, and all Mexicans who may hereafter acquire said property by contract, shall enjoy with respect to it guarantees equally ample as if the same belonged to citizens of the United States.


    The Mexicans who, in the territories aforesaid, shall not preserve the character citizens of the Mexican Republic, conformably with what is stipulated in the preceding article, shall be incorporated into the Union of the United States, and be admitted at the proper time (to be judged of by the Congress of the United States) to the enjoyment of all the rights of citizens of the United States, according to the principles of the Constitution; and in the meantime, shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty and property, and secured in the free exercise of their religion without restriction.

    Anglos stealing Mexican and Mexican-American lands, 1853

    [In Texas, some Anglos, embittered by the war with Mexico, Anglos, wanted the property of the outnumbered Mexicans or who resented their presence. Despite the treat guarantees of 1848, Anglos forced Mexicans off their property, sometimes claiming the Mexicans had been disloyal. On Dec. 28, 1853, the Mexican Consul in Brownsville described this process of dispossession to his home government.]

    Your Excellency:
    On the 8th of the current month, I stated the following to the General Consul of the Republic in the United States of America: "During the last few days it has been said that neighbors of Matagorda County in the State of Texas, who united in an assembly, decided to expel the Mexican population residing in the same county. Several reasons are attributed for such an extraordinary and illegal measure, and until it is truly revealed what has taken place, I will limit myself to informing Your Excellency of this. I include a copy of a paragraph that I have addressed to Mr. Kingsbury, a member of the State Legislature, asking for reports on this matter. The paragraph states: I have been notified of a cruel and illegal act committed by the citizens of Matagorda County; it appears that those citizens, despising all duty of justice and humanity, have determined to expel their neighbors of Mexican descent. I am unaware of the reasons that have prompted the resolution made at a public meeting. Therefore, I would truly appreciate it if you would communicate to me what took place via a letter, as well as tell me if the Mexicans, so brutally treated, are or are not naturalized citizens according to the laws of the United States of America. I should warn that, if they are still citizens of Mexico, I will notify the Mexican Embassy in Washington. As soon as I receive the report I requested, I will proceed accordingly, and I will inform Your Excellency appropriately."

    Anglo Squatters Take Over Mexican and Mexican-American Lands, 1873

    Note from M. Escalante, Mexican Consul in Tucson, Arizona, to Mexican Secretary of the Foreign Ministry in Mexico City, August 6, 1873.

    The majority of Mexicans lost land and economic power in a less dramatic fashion than just simply being thrown off their land. Squatters often compromised the land claims of Mexicans in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas.
    One of the matters that most seriously affects the interests of Mexican citizens in Arizona is one that is related to the execution of the treaties by virtue of which part of the Mexican territory passed into U.S. control. According to those treaties, the American government solemnly agreed to respect and protect the property of Mexicans included in the limits of the ceded territory. In 1854, they declared as valid the articles that with the same purpose had been assigned to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. And what is it that the government of the United States has done to carry out the obligations that this treaty imposed? Which state currently safeguards this serious and important business?

    As a result of the extraordinary size of immigration that the discovery of gold attracted to California, in 1851, the Congress issued a law, organizing a commission to examine and decide the validity of existing title deeds within the limits of that state. Later in 1854, the Congress of the United States dictated a law for the examination and assessment of title deeds in New Mexico, but instead of creating a new special commission as in California, the General Surveyor of the territory was responsible for receiving the mentioned titles and annually issuing a report on them; the Congress thus reserved to itself the right to revise and grant a final decision in each case.

    During that time, Arizona was part of New Mexico's territory, and after its separation was decreed and once it was established as an independent entity, Congress applied to Arizona the already mentioned law of 1854. Twenty-four years have elapsed and experience has evidently proved day after day that the law involved is completely useless in achieving the objective the treaties proposed. Thus, it is obviously urgent that this law be revised as soon as possible because it has only served to hinder and delay the right that Mexicans have, according to the context of the treaties, to be respected and protected in their properties.

    In the history of this serious business, Arizona has undergone the worst part. Because as it has been stated, in California a commission was established for reviewing and resolving Mexican deeds and, no matter what their procedures were, the commission carried out the assignment, and the pending claims of that state were judged and almost all of them have been definitively resolved.

    In New Mexico, another system was established and, although it was defective a, impossible to execute, it produced some sort of result. But in the Arizona territory, not one step has been taken toward executing the mentioned law, because when the US government extended it to here, it did not allocate in the expenditure budget any amount for the essential costs that the surveyor should incur while fulfilling his commission.

    Countless Mexican residents here and in the state of Sonora [Mexico] own many properties with legitimate titles in Arizona, some of them were issued by the colonial government and others by the government of the US Republic. Landowners in Arizona cannot call themselves proprietors, much less possessors of what legally belongs to them. Their condition could not be more precarious and, as time goes by, worsens to a positively inconceivable degree.

    In the passing of so many years and especially since the US carried out the pacification of wild tribes that inhabited these regions, speculators called squatters have been occupying the richest portions of these immense titled lands. Their owner cannot protest against such usurpation, because their titles are not honored nor confirmed, being that they are inadmissible and do not have any legal value in the US.

    But this is not all. Mexican owners undergo an even more unjustifiable offense. While the acknowledgment and decision on the titles is delayed indefinitely, while a remedy against the invasions of the squatter speculators is lacking, and the Mexican owner does not possess nor enjoy anything, the College of Assessors include in the tax lists the properties at issue. They levy them with exorbitant taxes that their so-called owners should pay. This is horrendous and unfair, for Mexicans are only considered owners when it concerns taxes, without an exchange for those obligations in which they may enjoy the guarantee and right to the taxed properties. To add mockery to the injustice, the same usurpers, squatters who cultivate and benefit from the land, do not pay anything and are exempt from any fees. The process is repeated year after year, until the taxpayer, tired of paying uselessly, unable at other times to cover his debts, and always losing the hope that his titles will one day be acknowledged and confirmed, sells his property at any price or else loses it in a financial auction.

    That is how gradually and progressively the rights of many Mexicans who owned immense and rich lands are disappearing. If a quick and efficient remedy is not applied to such serious evils, if Mexico does not raise its voice and make vigorous demands before the Washington cabinet, so that the Treaty of 1848 can finally be executed, the property of our citizens in Arizona territory will be lost forever.

    1 think it is suitable to go into detail on the same considerations regarding the land matter in the state of California, because the history of the cases processed by the commission there offers a precedent of much importance to Mexico when demanding from. the US a loyal execution of the treaties. The 1851 law that ostensibly had as its purpose the observance of the Treaty Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 was in reality expedited out of necessity and convenience to American nation during the exceptional circumstances by which California became a state. This law produced immense evils for Mexican owners.

    The commission was always ready to dispute Mexican titles, no matter how perfect and respectable they were. The law would force Mexican owners to undergo such high costs that were equivalent to depriving them of their properties. This forced them to place liens, mortgages, or see them. Often dealing with all these obstacles, few reached the triumph of their rights after so many years awaiting an uncertain final judgment, while some arc still engaged in litigation.

    A more appropriate definition of the nature of this law and its practical effects could not be better than that given by Hoffman, District Court Judge in the state of California, when on September 4, 1876, he decided on the case of the US against Benjamin Flint and others and gave them the validity of a Mexican title. This law, although it was dictated with good intentions, in its practice imposes costly obligations (perhaps inevitable) on the Mexicans, who have great costs and delayed judgments that after 25 years can hardly be said that they have been settled. Whatever critical judgment is formulated about the law of 1851, it has not jeopardized in the least the interests of the US.

    The opinion of this magistrate, so notable for his knowledge, is of great weight. He has presided over the court of appeals on all judgments over property titles in California. It can be deduced from what has been expressed that the US government of the, when issuing the law of 1851, was not motivated to exercise the duties contracted by the Treaty of 1848, and it may be assumed that its intention was to protect its own interests at any costs.

    The principal idea in this serious business, on behalf of the American government, has truthfully not been to honor its vehement faith in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Far from this, instead of adjusting to the spirit and the context of the stipulations, admitting in general theory that all Mexican titles were valid, it established as a fixed foundation the unjustifiable principle that they were all false.

    Mexican owners were forced to prove in a trial the unquestionable authenticity of their titles. Thousands of difficulties and increased expenses in the business proceedings were created and the door almost closed on them before they could achieve the triumph of their 1awful right. Such was the case that some landowners did not even appear before the commission, because they saw that their property did not even represent half the value that the expenses would amount to.

    Recollections of life in Arizona by Pedro Perez, working-class Mexican American, born in 1860

    From 1875 lots of people were hanged for any kind of thievery and lots of them were framed in horse and cattle stealing. In 1875, there was quite a stir over the case of a certain young man of fine reputation and a very good family, but the young man made the mistake of having one drink too many, and he got the idea to steal a cow from a big rancher and a very mean Tejano (Anglo Texan). The young man's name was Mariano Tisnado, and he was well-liked by all the town, and above all he was wealthy. But then he happened to be infatuated with a certain woman in town, and he made the mistake of following the wrong advice, thus causing him to lose his life. Mr. Grey and a few other Tejanos got together and captured Mariano Tisnado, and they made a necktie party out of the case. When this happened, most of the early Mexican families besides ours that were residing here left town, and for awhile it looked like the future of the town was done for. But after quite a while the people began to come back.

    There was at that time too, a famous bandit and outlaw known as Jack Suelar. He was a Texan, and he had as a companion a Mexican bandit whose name was Jose Duran. They were living in town and they used to rob left and right. They were rather generous with the loots taken from the Stage and Express robberies, because they shared them with poor people. They also used to bury their loots, but it is not known where.

    They lived right in town, but they were so daring and expert shooters that nobody dared to fight them. They thrived from 1865 until 1880 when they decided to retire from the life that they were in, and as Congress was adopting laws to be enforced in the West, the law of guns was being cut out. So Jack Suelar retired to the ranch that he bought in Agua Fria, and years after, he was arrested for murders and robberies that he had committed previously, and he died an old man in Yuma prison. He left all his property from Agua Fria to Cañon Negro. Don Jose Duran was not caught, because he left some time before to Old Mexico, taking with him lots of money, and it was never known whether he lived or died. During that period, this state had around 10,000 inhabitants, it was not Arizona then, it was all New Mexico. Of this total, 4,000 were Indians of the different tribes that predominate in all the state, and 6,000 were a mix of Caucasians such as Mexicans and Anglo-Saxons, etc.